Wal-Mart vs. Jesse Jackson
Dan Mihalopoulos has a story in today’s Chicago Tribune on the contentious neighborhood politics Wal-Mart faces in trying to open new stores in the Windy City: When the City Council votes Wednesday on whether to make zoning changes to allow the West Side Wal-Mart store and another store on the South Side, aldermen will decide ...
Dan Mihalopoulos has a story in today's Chicago Tribune on the contentious neighborhood politics Wal-Mart faces in trying to open new stores in the Windy City:
Dan Mihalopoulos has a story in today’s Chicago Tribune on the contentious neighborhood politics Wal-Mart faces in trying to open new stores in the Windy City:
When the City Council votes Wednesday on whether to make zoning changes to allow the West Side Wal-Mart store and another store on the South Side, aldermen will decide a furious dispute that has opened rifts in the predominantly black neighborhoods where the world’s largest retailer wants to open shop. With each side invoking Scripture, the debate has unleashed complex passions among area African-Americans, whose public policy opinions frequently–and mistakenly–are seen as monolithic. Concerns largely center on wages and benefits at Wal-Mart, and critics recite widely reported complaints that the company abuses workers, particularly those who try to unionize its 1.4 million employees. But many blacks say they are tired of having to travel miles to hunt for bargains and they view Wal-Mart’s entry into Chicago as validation of black buying power. “I’d rather spend my money in my neighborhood than go to somebody’s suburb,” said Krystal Garrett, a 27-year-old public school teacher and homeowner in Chatham, the South Side neighborhood where Wal-Mart wants to build a store.
As a fellow South Sider, let me just second Krystal’s sentiments there. This is not a case where Wal-Mart would put “mom & pop stores” out of business, since there are appallingly few retail options in these neighborhoods. However, local African-American leaders have taken a different and depressingly predictable position:
Proponents also say the 300 low-wage jobs at each store are better than having no jobs at all. Such attitudes reek of “desperation and ghettonomics,” according to Rev. Jesse Jackson. Pastors at nine black churches, including the 8,500-member Trinity United Church of Christ, have called for boycotting Wal-Mart. William Lucy, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, sarcastically noted that slaves technically had jobs too. “If Wal-Mart comes, it will come recognizing that this is not Tupelo,” Lucy said on Jackson’s TV program recently. “This is Chicago, where you have got to deal with the political and religious and community leadership.” (emphasis added)
I can see the campaign commercial now: “Chicago’s political and religious and community leadership — keeping jobs out of your neighborhood until we get ours!!” UPDATE: Kevin Brancato — who helps run a blog devoted exclusively to Wal-Mart — links to this Business Week article about Wal-Mart’s devastating effects on urban centers:
The Wal-Mart at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in South Central Los Angeles sits across the street from the kind of stores you’ll find in any struggling big-city neighborhood. There’s Lili’s Wigs and King’s Furniture and Mama’s House, which promises the “Best Soul Food in Town.” Last year, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. took over a space that had been vacant since Macy’s left five years ago. Since then, it has lured black and Latino shoppers with low prices on everything from videos to toothpaste. And now that people can stay in the neighborhood for bargains, something else interesting is happening: They’re stopping at other local stores, too. “The traffic is definitely there. We’re seeing more folks,” says Harold Llecha, a cashier at Hot Looks, a nearby clothier. The same is happening at other nearby shops, say retailers. They acknowledge that these shoppers don’t always buy from them. On some items, Wal-Mart prices can’t be beat. And a handful of local shops have closed. But the larger picture is that many that were there before the big discounter arrived are still there. There are new jobs now where there were none. And a moribund mall is regaining vitality. In short, Wal-Mart came in — and nothing bad happened…. A new Wal-Mart can indeed gut a small burg’s downtown. But urban big-box retailing is so new that economists are just beginning to get a handle on it. A 2003 study by Emek Basker at the University of Missouri found that five years after the opening of Wal-Marts in most markets, there is a small net gain in retail employment in counties where they’re located, with a drop of only about 1% in the number of small local businesses. That is consistent with what seems to have happened in Baldwin Hills. Basker has also found significant price benefits: Retail prices for many goods fall 5% to 10%.
You can read Basker’s paper about Wal-Mart by clicking here. Thank goodness the good Reverend Jackson is here to prevent these pernicious effects from taking place in Chicago!!
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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